Sister Carol took the stage ten minutes before midnight. In dark glasses and tall rasta head dress, the 54-year-old radiates reggae empress on stage. Born Carol East in Kingston, Jamaica, Sister Carol is celebrating three decades of bringing women up in a culture dominated by masculinity. Part roots singer part rhymer, her signature chatty dancehall style has crowed the “Black Cinderella” one of the most eloquent women in reggae music.
A fashionably late entrance is standard affair in reggae culture. The practice is a gesture of sorts, giving the crowd a chance to appreciate the DJs and fill the dance floor. In fact, a seasoned fan knows to arrive no earlier than 11pm so as not to wander aimlessly until someone gets on stage. Arriving just before show time, the venue had already filled with people who had seen Sister Carol or Mykal Rose several times before. Fans came down from Mendocino County, Lake Tahoe, and up from the City owing to the significance of having these two reggae legends play such a small venue with a live band.
Now in its second year as the only reggae genre night in Santa Rosa, Casa Rasta has garnered a steady following of local fans. Resident DJ Kieran “Sizzlak” Eagan is lead seleckta, building on experience as a late-night reggae music programmer with San Jose’s KKUP, 91.5FM. And now taking to the decks is DJ Dinga, better known for his MC techniques with the wildly popular mixed martial arts event, Cage Combat. With Bay Area sound system Jah Warrior Shelter dropping in on a regular basis, the dynamic duo are coming into their own, booking quality live talent and attracting a fan base four counties wide.
Sister Carol’s performance was memorable. Having seen her perform on festival stages for thousands of people, it was an entirely different experience to see her engage a small audience. She took care to give attention to those in the front row and was absolutely on point with the back-up band. Going into several free styles, even within songs, the clarity of her rhymes was beyond impressive. It was if she had played a thousand times yet this time’s rhymes had renewed potency. Flawless renditions of “Rasta Girl” and “Womb-Man” sounded like album recordings, and the classic anthem “Reggae Arena” was, as always, the highlight of her set. Not a minute of lagging, just pure concentration in the music and the vibe. To our dismay though, the crowd did not realize “Wild Thing” was her last song and failed to produce an applause worthy of an encore. When she did not come back on stage, a sense of somber awe filled the room. The crowd knew they were not ready to say goodbye.
Thursday’s show was number three on a six-week West Coast tour with Black Uhuru vocalist, Mykal Rose. The Grammy-award winning songwriter has been touring as a solo artist for more than two decades and his voice sounds as rich and clear as his classic roots days. Rose’s performance was exalted and genuine. Sauntering on stage to “Shine Eye Gal” and “Plastic Smile”, both written by Rose for Black Uhuru, the performer commanded his audience and laid down his style. The vibe got more serious for “General Penitentiary”, “Bull Inna the Pen”, and “Abortion”. The militant bass lines and serious message mellowed listening fans. “Stalk of Sensimilla” brought back the roots beats and the crowd singing the lyrics. Then a politically charged “Shoot Out” brought back the revolutionary groove. The whole set went from highly charged to mellow vibe and back again – keeping the interest and intrigue of the crowd. Of all the songs to end on, “Guess Whose Coming To Dinner” and “What is Life” where the perfect set choices.
Listen to Sister Carol’s feminist insurgency in “Rasta Girl” below (Album recording).
SET LIST – SISTER CAROL
Herbal Is Natural
Dread natty Congo
Love Jah More
Watch Mykal Rose perform “General Penitentiary”, “Bull Inna the Pen”, and “Abortion” live in Buenos Aires, Argentina (2011).
SET LIST – MYKAL ROSE
Bull Ina Pen
Salk of Sensimilla
Feeling So Lonely
Party In Session
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
What Is Life
Tags: Casa Rasta, Mykal Rose Black Uhuru, Sister Carol, Society:Culture House